2022 PA Student of the Year Drawn to Profession by a Love of Science

Through Background in Nutrition, Cassidy McCandless Hopes to Improve PA Education

May 18, 2022

By Sarah Blugis

Cassidy McCandless, MS, RD
Cassidy McCandless, MS, RD

For Cassidy McCandless, MS, RD, AAPA’s 2022 PA Student of the Year, the journey to PA school was not a linear one. Changing professions as a non-traditional student and moving to attend PA school out of state was scary, she says – but now is confident that she made the right decision.

“The PA profession allows you to follow your passions, even if you have a lot of them,” McCandless says.

Her first passion was her love of science, which her mother – a healthcare educator – encouraged her to follow. That led her to a career in medical nutrition. As a registered dietitian, McCandless was able to work directly with patients and assist them in managing conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.

But when she began co-managing a patient’s care with a PA, she learned a lot about the profession. “And the rest was history,” she says.

The PA Student of the Year Award honors a PA student who furthers the image of PAs and PA students; gives self-sacrificing time and effort in service to community; demonstrates leadership and professionalism; and exemplifies the PA profession’s philosophy of providing accessible, quality healthcare to all.

McCandless began PA school at Missouri State University in January of 2021 – and from day one, she has gone above and beyond to give back to her program, patients, and the PA profession.

She has represented her program at a virtual open house, as well as on a student interview panel. McCandless also represented her program at an interdisciplinary “Vaccines and Veggies” event sponsored by both the local health department and a local clinic for the underinsured.

Volunteering is important to McCandless, too. She has volunteered through her PA program at the O’Reilly Center for Hope, which provides resources for unhoused individuals, and volunteers often with the Metro East Diaper Bank – a charity her mother started, which provides over 10,000 diapers a month to families in need.

Cassidy McCandless

“No matter where I am, service to my community is of great importance to me,” McCandless says. “Health promotion, advocating for legislation, and volunteer service are how I give back.”

In addition to her volunteer leadership, McCandless is also a PA student leader. Because of her background and interest in nutrition education, she became interested in PA education – particularly, how to better teach PA students about nutrition. So, McCandless was appointed as the student member at large for the PA Education Association (PAEA) – a life changing experience.

“In this role, I have the opportunity to learn from fantastic educators from all around the country. I attended the 2021 virtual education forum, was able to volunteer with the research team on student survey development, and most recently, I gave a presentation at the PA virtual fair on student professionalism,” McCandless says. “There were so many questions about applying to PA school that I answered questions for over an hour and still couldn’t get through them all!”

Also important to McCandless is furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion, and increasing the number of minorities in healthcare. Through her current PAEA role, McCandless has input into updates to the Centralized Application for PA Students (CASPA), and understands how application standards affect the makeup of the PA profession.

“As a student of color, the PA profession allows me to give back to my community,” she says. “There are a multitude of racial disparities in healthcare, and I get to be a part of the solution while increasing representation for Black and biracial providers.”

In the future as a PA, McCandless sees herself continuing in PA education, with plans to work both clinically and as an adjunct professor teaching nutrition, preventative health, or professional issues at a PA program.

“The PA profession is vast,” McCandless says. “No matter what interests you have, there is a place for you here.”

2022 AAPA Award Recipients

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